Thursday, January 4, 2018

Ratzinger and Scientific Method

Having written the previous post in response to the Italian lawyer who attempted to criticize Antonio Livi's critique of Ratzinger's views on faith, I did a few online searches. Those searches confirmed a number of things. One is that the world has become a very small place, indeed, with the advent of the internet. I came across an article in the New York Times by the Professor (now emeritus) whose course on Philosophy of Science I took as an undergrad.

The paper I wrote for that course argued that there is not, in fact, any such thing as "scientific method." Rather, I argued, science is simply a refinement and quantification of "common sense" methods of knowledge common to all humanity, i.e., a careful utilization of the normal methods we all use in coming to know the world around us, extended and refined by the use of instrumentation and mathematics. I received a B for that effort.

Over forty years later, my former professor authored the article I just read: There Is No Scientific Method.

A survey of Ratzinger's writing over the decades since Vatican II leads to the conclusion that his views remain essentially unchanged, to include his naive views on scientific positivism's affect on philosophy, faith, and human knowledge generally. Unfortunately, his views are clearly based on German philosophy from the 18th century that is accepted only by philosophically naive people--such as scientists and theologians. Oh--and Italian lawyers. The truth is that "modern" philosophy doesn't explain "modern" science. Kantian agnosticism is, as Etienne Gilson pointed out, an unjustifiable presupposition. Would that Ratzinger had bothered to actually read and reflect on what the Thomist Gilson had to say, rather than grousing about the scholastic textbooks he (Ratzinger) was required to read in seminary--as Ratzinger has done for the last five decades.

The conclusion to my former professor's article is worth quoting:

If scientific method is only one form of a general method employed in all human inquiry, how is it that the results of science are more reliable than what is provided by these other forms? I think the answer is that science deals with highly quantified variables and that it is the precision of its results that supplies this reliability. But make no mistake: Quantified precision is not to be confused with a superior method of thinking.
I am not a practicing scientist. So who am I to criticize scientists’ understanding of their method?
I would turn this question around. Scientific method is not itself an object of study for scientists, but it is an object of study for philosophers of science. It is not scientists who are trained specifically to provide analyses of scientific method.
Some readers claimed that I was denying the existence of a method that science employs. I was not. I was arguing against the claim that only science employs it.
The importance and effectiveness of scientific inquiry is not in question here.
Suggesting that the method science uses is its exclusive property is an inflationary claim that doesn’t serve science well. Science is a form of human knowledge. But there’s more to knowledge than science. The differences, of course, have to be preserved, but we won’t know what the defining differences are until we identify what it is that scientific and nonscientific inquiry have in common. This short article was a modest attempt to explore that question.

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